It’s a story that spans decades, exposes corrupt Chinese politicians and shows the lengths Bloomberg L.P. will go to protect its profit.
It begins in China in 2012, when a team of hard-nosed journalists at Bloomberg News started investigating the ties between the Communist Party and the country’s wealthiest citizens.
Their reporting hit a little too close to home and the higher-ups at Bloomberg News killed it, firing the reporter who questioned the decision and attempted to silence his wife by pressuring her for years to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
The incredible story, reported by NPR on Tuesday, untangles the twisty tale behind Bloomberg’s decision to cave to threats by China’s ruling party because they were worried about repercussions by Beijing. Instead of standing by their reporters, Bloomberg turned on them and took it a step further when it tried to get author Leta Hong Fincher, the wife of then-Bloomberg Beijing correspondent Mike Forsythe, to also keep quiet.
“They assumed that because I was the wife of their employee, I was the wife,” she told NPR. “I was just an appendage of their employee. I was not a human being.”
A Bloomberg News spokesperson declined to comment to Fox News.
Forsythe was part of Bloomberg’s team of reporters looking into the mass accumulation of wealth by China’s ruling class. Their investigative reporting got them on Beijing’s radar, and the Chinese ambassador purportedly warned Bloomberg executives about publishing further exposés.
Forsythe pressed on, despite receiving death threats.
The team’s next round of reporting focused on Chinese leaders’ ties to Wang Jianlin, the country’s richest man, as well as the family of President Xi Jinping. At first, Bloomberg editors seemed to be excited about digging deeper into China’s most influential leaders, but soon the media outlet’s bigwigs back home decided to drop the story.
In October 2013, Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg’s founding editor-in-chief, was caught on video admitting that the piece would “you know, invite the Communist Party to, you know, completely shut us down and kick us out of the country. So, I just don’t see that as a story that is justified.”
In audio made available to NPR, Winkler suggested that Bloomberg reporters find another way to cover the story — a friendlier path that wouldn’t ruffle as many feathers.
“It has to be done with a strategic framework and a tactical method that is … smart enough to allow us to continue and not run afoul of the Nazis who are in front of us and behind us everywhere,” he said. “And that’s who they are. And we should have no illusions about it.”
When asked, Winkler said at the time that the story needed additional reporting.
The problem: That’s not what the audio revealed.
Instead, it offered a disturbing peek into how much editors were worried about losing millions of dollars in business deals in China.
Bloomberg’s terminals have been a huge moneymaker for the company. Subscribers have paid about $20,000 a year for each, which provides financial data and news stories. The more money Bloomberg makes on its terminals, the more traction and name recognition its news division gets. But just as the investigation into China’s ruling class was in full swing, Bloomberg’s business opportunities in China were seen as a cash cow.
Around the same time, Michael Bloomberg had been elected mayor of New York City. He claimed multiple times he had nothing to do with Bloomberg News, but NPR and Bloomberg’s own reporters say he was in frequent contact and shared his vision for expansion in China.
This directly contradicts statements he repeatedly made.
He also shot down the idea that Bloomberg News would ever back down from publishing a story.
“Nobody thinks we are wusses and not willing to stand up and write stories that are of interest to the public and that are factually correct,” he said at a news conference while he was still mayor.
After his tenure, he returned to the company that bore his name and held a “town hall” in early 2014 where he purportedly singled out a few “bad apples” that some took to mean the reporters covering China, NPR reported.
Bloomberg News had suspended and then fired Forsythe in late 2013, accusing him of leaking plans to kill the story to other news outlets.
Forsythe signed a nondisclosure agreement and has not spoken on the topic.
That wasn’t good enough for the business behemoth.
The company’s team of lawyers then targeted his wife, threatening to force the couple of pay back thousands of dollars they used to move after they were told their lives were in danger. The company also threatened to sue the couple if Fincher didn’t sign a nondisclosure agreement, or NDA, something she told NPR was absurd.
“There was no reason why I should have to sign a nondisclosure agreement because I didn’t possess any damaging material about the company,” she said.
Then she and her husband were instructed to go to the offices of Bloomberg’s Hong Kong-based legal team.
Fincher said the bizarre meeting began with a giant projection of Bloomberg’s outside counsel in New York City.
He demanded she sign an NDA. When she questioned the reasoning and said she didn’t have access to any sensitive material, he allegedly asked, “What about all the evidence that’s in her head?”
Fincher told NPR that she walked out of the conference room, got on the elevator and left. But that didn’t stop the alleged harassment.
In March, Bloomberg corporate spokeswoman Natalie Harland accused Fincher’s husband of stealing intellectual property and giving it to her. She also pushed back on claims that the company demands its workers sign NDAs — a topic that came up during Michael Bloomberg’s short-lived presidential campaign.
Fincher, who wrote about her battle with Bloomberg in The Intercept, said the company only dropped its attack of her after she hired the same high-profile lawyers who represented whistleblower Edward Snowden.